Facebook is changing the rules once again. What if everything that you ever learned about using the power of social media to promote your product/music/business was no longer true? Yeah, its kinda like that.
I’m sure that many of you remember the many promises that were made when social networks first arrived on the scene. Success would now be possible for any brand, no matter how small. All you had to do was build your fan base. The larger your fan base the more “shares” you would get. Word of Mouth was king and everyone who was anyone had at least a million followers on Myspace.
The concept actually worked. Many people did find success by investing the time, effort and yes, money to build a fan base. Then Tila Tequila taught us all that having the most followers on a social network doesn’t guarantee lasting success. The lesson was that the quality of the content that we put on the web is actually important. So you spent more time and money creating unique and interesting content.
That is what it really should have always been about. The quality of your content was supposed to build your fan base for you because everyone would have free access to that content. The newest search engine updates have been all about the quality of content and its relevance to a query.
Facebook And The End of an Era
According to this recent story in Adage digital the era of free exposure via social networks may be coming to an end. The story cites a sales deck that Facebook sent out to their ad partners last month and quotes the following; ” “We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.”
Essentially this means that all of those followers/customers/fans that you spent all that time and effort on acquiring will no longer be seeing all of your posts. In fact some of them may never see any of your posts anymore.
This phenomenon first surfaced last year and some of you may have noticed a gradual decline already. We have nearly 800 likes/followers on our own Facebook business page. A year or so ago nearly half of our followers were exposed to every post. Then that number declined to around 200. Most recently the average is more like 90 of our followers out of 800 that get to see our posts.
Of course there are many variables that could be blamed for reduced exposure numbers. things like the time of day that you post, the day of the week, etc. This story however does note that others noticed this same trend and called Facebook out on it. Facebook denied any meddling though and according to the story claimed that; “algorithmic changes had been made to weed out spammy, non-engaging content, but that the median reach of pages hadn’t budged. It particularly objected to the inference that the changes had been made to spur marketers to spend more on ads to make up for lost reach”.
That made everyone feel as though it was their own fault for posting boring content too often. With this latest revelation however it is much harder for Facebook to lay the blame for poor performance at the doorstep of its users. I think that everyone, even grudgingly, could accept that it was important for users of Facebook to have a good experience. I’m sure everyone is happier when the spam is removed at least. If it meant trying harder to produce quality content then we were willing to do that.
What if that wasn’t the real motive though? After all, your followers have chosen to follow you and one would think they do so because they find your content relevant to them. If they do not they are certainly able to un-follow your page. So why would Facebook take it upon themselves to make those decisions for them and limit how many of the people who choose to follow you get to see your posts?
The answer is a simple one; money. From what is revealed in the above referenced story in Adage it appears that Facebook in particular and social networks in general are turning into a “pay to play” venue just like major media in the pre-internet era always was. Twitter and Linkedin have also deployed their own internal advertising platforms. We have used all of the social network ad platforms for clients and found them to be quite effective so we are not intending to bash the concept. In the case of Twitter and Linkedin and (we thought) Facebook the ad platforms just give those who can afford them the ability to extend their reach beyond the traditional free distribution.
The Adage story goes on to quote a spokesman from Facebook as saying; “We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it”.
This is actually true. Even though we have always been champions of indie artists being able to gain exposure for free we also realized that the sheer volume of content being constantly uploaded to the Internet makes it less likely every day that individual works will ever be seen by more than a few people. This is true even if your content is of high quality. The most effective alternative has always been advertising.
Facebook clarified what their vision for the future is in terms of audience acquisition and the purpose thereof. It isn’t to be a platform to deliver your content for free. It is going to be a place where you can more effectively target your advertising in a contextual sense. Here is a quick bullet point summary based on quotes in the Adage story:
- “improve advertising effectiveness” (through ads with social context, which is enabled by a substantial fan base)
- “lower cost for paid distribution” (since Facebook makes it cheaper to deliver ads with social context.)
- “Your brand can fully benefit from having fans when most of your ads show social context, which increases advertising effectiveness and efficiency,”
That is the future of social networking for businesses, bands, filmmakers, authors and even (I assume) non-profits. You are still going to have to build a follower base but now you will have to pay to distribute your content to them (and beyond). The fact that this will negatively impact a lot of the indies out there is obvious. The fact that it will also put a kink in the concept of how Crowdfunding campaigns are supposed to work isn’t even addressed in the story but is pretty obvious.
One thing that struck me as a bit ironic in the Adage story was Facebook’s self professed determination to give your followers a quality experience by weeding out all that spammy content that you produce. At the same time though they torpedo their own commitment by providing an advertising platform that allows you to reach all of your own followers as well as pretty much anyone else you want to – as long as you pay for it. Where is their concern for that “quality experience” then?